A few years ago when I first started shopping at Farmers’ Markets, I went to the weekly events assuming everyone there was a local farmer or artisan who worked all week to bring their wares to market. I would stop by as many booths as possible and pick up an item or two at each one, until eventually, I started talking to a few of the vendors about their offerings.
It didn’t take long to realize that some of these “farmers” were actually growing the fruits and vegetables at their own farms, and some were actually more like distributors, shipping in produce from wherever they could get it the cheapest and selling it to unsuspecting shoppers.
Some shoppers probably didn’t mind a bit. They never questioned a watermelon in early June or strawberries in August. They just bought them and went on their way.
I did care, especially since I could get tomatoes from somewhere else any time of the year at the grocery store. When I went to the market, I wanted only what was in season and had been grown locally.
The problem was, I didn’t have the heart or the energy to go down the line of vendors and ask each one if they grew this themselves and whether or not they used conventional or organic growing methods. So instead, I just started buying from the ones I’d already met whose processes I had already vetted. I limited my option, but at least I knew what I was getting.
Last week, I wrote about asking some important questions to “deepen our commitment to caring for each other and the earth,” as Marilyn McEntire suggested in her Comment article, “What Are We Willing to Know?” Those questions to ask are …
- What am I willing to know?
- What am I willing to ask?
- Whom am I willing to trust?
- What am I willing to risk?
- What or with whom am I willing to argue?
- What am I willing to act on?
This week, I have been thinking about that first question — what am I willing to know? — and that farmers market story above came to mind. Because of globalization and digital communication and the anonymity (or at least distance) of social media, I don’t have the heart right now — or the capacity ever, really — to know everything about everything. I can’t know everything about every company I do business with, at least not without significant research. I can’t know everything about every government official or media company or non-profit organization. And I can’t be the expert on every issue, every cause, every incident of injustice or calamity. Not to mention, I’ll never be able to keep up with all the books, websites, movies, trends, and memes that are out there. I just can’t.
In some ways, that about kills me. Because to be honest, I like to know things. I’d love to answer the question — what am I willing to know? — with the solid answer of everything. I’m willing to know everything.
But the fact that I can’t know everything is the first concession I have to make if I want to care more about people and the earth. Not to mention, my Christian faith had led me down a path toward greater mystery and less knowing the past few years. I believe God has revealed himself to us through his Word and through his Creation, and neither one is simple to understand and obvious to interpret. I know what I know about God as He reveals himself to me. So much of who he is and how he works in the world, though, is still a mystery to me.
But though I can’t know everything, I can know some things. If I am willing to know anything at all, I have to just start. And to do that, I have to narrow the field. I have to start with the government officials, issues, policies, companies, organizations, and products that are part of my life right now. Even those are many. In our own narrow lives, we are touched by the issues of immigration, same-sex marriage, gender equality, gun rights, environmental protection, fair-wages, mandatory minimum wage, child labor, government regulation, healthcare reform, religious freedom, and organized labor. I can’t clean the toilet, make dinner, take out the trash, pay the bills, or even sit in church on Sunday without bumping into the issues that regularly make headlines and fill the stories of national newscasts. These are all things I have to be willing to know if I want to care for others and the earth.
But even before I learn these things, what else must I be willing to know? The names of my neighbors? The fears of my stepsons? The opinions of my friends? The hopes of my husband? The anxiety of my parents? The needs of my community?
The easy thing to do would be to continue in ignorance. To not research. To not read the label. To not go to the website. To not attend the meeting. To not walk across the street. To not know.
But right now, I’m willing to know more than easy.
As you read along with me, I’d love to hear your answers to these same questions. This week, what are you willing to know?